Richardt strauss endeared himself to rugby supporters across Ireland, in November 2012, by belting out the words to Amhrán na bhFiann before his adopted country took on South Africa.
A knee injury and heart condition, discovered earlier in the season, curtailed Strauss’ provincial and Test appearances since his Ireland debut but he is miraculously back in the mix. Ulster’s Rory Best looks set to start the Six Nations as Ireland’s first-choice hooker but there is another South African vying for the back-up role.
Cape Town-born Rob Herring set off from South Africa in his late teens and arrived at Ulster via London Irish. He ousted veteran hooker Nigel Brady last season and featured 19 times for the province in his break-through season. Former Ireland U20 captain Niall Annett has emerged as another challenger for the No.2 jersey but Herring has been Mark Anscombe’s chosen one thus far. He starts for the Wolfhounds against England Saxons this evening.
Annett told TheScore.ie, “Rob has been given some great opportunities and has started a lot of big games this season. He has been playing good rugby all season so I thought he was going to get the call-up.”
Herring is solid at the line-out and perfectly fills the role of fourth loose forward. INPHO/Huw Evans
In Best’s [fractured arm] absence from November to mid January, Herring starred in the back-to-back Heineken Cup wins over Treviso. He was outplayed by his opposite number, Sean Cronin, in the away loss to Leinster but responded superbly in the thrilling victory over Munster at Ravenhill.
Former Connacht hooker Adrian Flavin told TheScore.ie: “I played against Rob a few times and he is a very good scrummager. He gets around the pitch well and is fairly accurate at the scrum. He will be under pressure from Strauss [on the bench] as he will be chomping at the bit to get on. It will be interesting to see how he handles the step-up.”
Herring gets the opportunity to show Schmidt — and Wolfhounds coaches Anthony Foley and Neil Doak — what he can do against Saracens Jamie George at Kingsholm this evening. Provincial teammate Best is the man in possession with Cronin the first, combative reserve.
The attritional nature of the Six Nations suggests, however, that Herring may be drafted into action at any stage of the competition. He could do worse than to ask Strauss for some tips on learning our national anthem.